Just think when you were in your car today- how many times did you pick up your phone?
Once, twice, three times? Texting while driving is a serious issue and something many people do.
“There is probably more than we realize but it is hard to prove,” says Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper. ”It is frustrating when you see someone doing something and there isn’t nothing you can do unless they are violating another law.”
Now, a south Florida lawmaker is asking local counties to help ban texting while driving and local officials are left wondering what type of impact this could have on the First Coast.
In late July, Nassau County commissioners received a letter from State House Representative Emily Slosberg that asked the Nassau County to pass a resolution supporting legislation that would make the ban on texting and driving a primary offense.
In the state of Florida, texting and driving is a secondary offense, which means that law enforcement officers cannot pull you over for texting while driving. According to our sister station WTSP, Slosberg suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken pelvis and a broken leg as the result of a 1996 accident when she was 14 years old. Her sister passed away during the same accident. According to the article, Slosberg’s “focus is to make roads safer for Floridians.”
“It is a good idea in theory when you make it a primary offense but the key for us is can you make it enforceable,” says Leeper. He has served in law enforcement for 40 years including 4 and a half with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office and 35 with the Florida Highway Patrol.
“There is a lot of technology now that you can talk to a phone that will text while you are driving. Is that going to be against the law or do you have to physically be looking at the phone and texting with your fingers?” says Leeper.
According to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle database, over 14-hundred citations were issued statewide in 2016; 82 were issued in Duval County followed by 15 in Alachua county and 11 in St. Johns and Nassau County had 10.
Members of the Nassau County community believe making texting and driving a primary offense could be a good thing.
“I’m from Jersey and we have that law up there and it works great,” says Theresa Halicki.
“I’ve done it but I try to avoid doing it because it is very dangerous,” says Kayla Foster.
“I’ve heard too many stories about it. One of my best friends, his son was texting and driving and he is dead now at 17-years-old,” says Jimmy Larsen.
The letter calls texting while driving an "epidemic." It also says fatalities in Florida increased 18 percent between 2014 and 2015 with teen fatalities increasing almost 30 percent during the same time. Slosberg, who sent the letter, couldn't be reached for comment.
Nassau county officials won’t make a decision without more input from local law enforcement but Leeper says whatever happens that one thing is for sure: “Driving is the most dangerous thing you do every day,” says Leeper.